NFL tennis champions are poised for 2014 and beyond
By John D'Onofrio Lockport Union-Sun & Journal
A history teacher, civil war re-enactor and big screen extra by day and a modest championship high school coach by night, John Beatty was the constant throughout this past Lockport High Schools girls varsity tennis season.
In fact, Beatty’s been a constant throughout the history of the LHS girls program — the only girls tennis coach Lockport’s ever had.
Beatty’s Lady Lions dropped the first match of their Niagara Frontier League season back in early September, then went on to win 13 straight matches en route to the league title — a tribute to a patient, experienced coach who took a young team under his wing and molded them into champions.
The question now is, “Is this the start of a Lady Lions net dynasty?”
“I think we’re going to be set for years to come,” said LHS senior co-captain and first doubles player Brandi Condon. “It was such a great feeling stepping off the court after winning the championship. Mr. Beatty is the nicest man, really. I’m glad I had an opportunity to play for him. There’s a lot of young talent coming back. I think we’ll be strong again next year and for a few more years after that.”
Condon and first singles player Kathryn Krawczyk were senior captains on a young LHS team that featured two underclassmen singles players as well a handful of up-and-coming freshmen talent.
Krawczyk, a three-year varsity player, was outstanding on and off the court throughout the season for the blue and gold and served as an outstanding role model to freshman second singles player Delaney Portka and junior third singles stalwart Delaney Fragale.
“It was honestly one of my best decisions I ever made to play tennis. I decided on tennis and worked at it and got here,” Krawczyk said. “Mr. Beatty is the best. He knows how to make you feel better, but he also knows how to correct some of the things that you might be doing wrong.”
Lockport’s first singles position was up for grabs prior to the start of the season. Beatty opted for consistency.
“Kathryn came off of our first doubles team, where she was a First Team NFL all-star. I knew it would be a challenge for her to make that transition and it was difficult for her, but she’s a young woman of character,” Beatty said.
“She understood that it wasn’t all about wins and losses. Everyone has their role to play and she just pulled her shoes on and did it every day.”
Krawczyk said it can get frustrating at times at the most competitive position in every tennis match.
“I did my best and tried to remember that every time I walked out on the court, I was going up against their team’s best,” Krawczyk said. “It got frustrating some of the time, but I tried to remember that the whole team was behind me and that every one on the team had an equal part in every match. I think we’re looking very good for the future. We’ve got three really good freshmen who’ve got three more years of good playing to look forward to.”
Beatty said you couldn’t find two more different styles of singles play than Krawczyk and Portka.
“Delaney’s a big hitter and goes for the a lot of winners. When she’s on she looks extremely strong and when she’s not, she sometimes struggles,” Beatty said. “Kathryn doesn’t have a big, booming shot, but she’s consistent — like a backboard. She’ll hit it back and forth all day and it was her consistency that beat a lot of people.”
Beatty said the most improved player on the team was the headstrong Fragale, who went 14-0 at third singles.
“She’s the most competitive player on the team. She’s interested in doing the best she can every time she goes out,” Beatty said. “Her biggest attribute is the way she can change her play. She can hit the big ball and can play consistent and she can hit winners. At third singles, you tend to to play some long matches and she figured out right away what it took to win those matches in straight sets.”
While Krawczyk, Portka and Fragale handled the singles duties, senior Morgan Haley teamed with seniors Condon, Kylie Kiah and Brittany White to form Lockport’s formidable first doubles team.
“Morgan was the anchor and the most consistent of the bunch,” Beatty said. “I felt I had three other seniors who were consistent players and all three came up big for us. They were a pleasant surprise to watch play. It was nice to see more girls get involved because this isn’t a sport you can call time out and make substitutions.”
Haley said this year’s title was for coach Beatty as much as it was for her teammates.
“The most important thing about Mr. Beatty is by the time I walked off the court — either after a match or after practice — I learned something,” Haley said. “Communication was a big key to our success at doubles. This year we had a lot of depth. I think we’ll hold up strong a couple more years and if we keep bringing in more people with the same determination and will power, we’ll hold up for a long while.”
Kiah said bouncing back from a runner-up finish in the NFL a year ago to first place was a great accomplishment.
“Last year, we came in second and lost to just one team (Niagara-Wheatfield) and this year we came back and beat them,” Kiah said. “Our loss to Ken East this year was a bad day for everyone. I don’t think we were ready for them. We came in thinking we’d be great and we weren’t. Mr. Beatty’s been pretty great the whole time. He’s very funny and sarcastic, but he has good tips when you’re playing and you need to go to him.”
White said Lockport’s senior contingent has been through it all together for three years.
“We’ve been a tight knit group the whole time,” White said. “This year, there’s a lot of new talent on the team and they’re all very good. They’re spunky. Mr. Beatty is a good teacher and a good coach. I’ve had him in the classroom and on the courts. He’s very encouraging and usually doesn’t say anything bad, unless you played really bad that day.”
Also going undefeated for the Lady net Lions was its freshmen second doubles tandem of Madeline “Maddie” Stoness and Hayley Coakley.
“They’re both very talented,” Beatty said. “Maddie comes from a good tennis family and fundamentally she’s very solid. Hayley’s mom teaches here at the high school and was on the team a few years ago, so it was exciting and special for me to coach a mother and daughter. Hayley’s a great net player and rarely makes a mistake, where as Maddie will give you solid play at the baseline.”
Kiah said Lockport’s freshmen contingent will be exciting to watch for years to come.
“Delaney Portka hits the ball so hard I can’t even return them,” Kiah said. “ Delaney Fragale she’s head strong and is always in it to win it. Maddie and Hayley are just really good. They’re little prodigies.”
Beatty said the key to success is not talking about Ws and Ls.
“We don’t really talk about wins and losses. We talk about what it is we have to do to be successful,” Beatty said. “Against Ken East, we just looked apprehensive out there and that wasn’t the way we wanted to play. We played not to lose and we lost because we played so tentative. When we started back in August we said we wanted to be aggressive and play every ball as hard as we could and still be in control.
“But some teams you match up well against and some you don’t. After our loss to Ken East on Opening Day, we had 24 hours to cry about it and within two days we had to be ready for our next match. There really wasn’t a whole lot of discussion about it except what can we do to be better tennis players.
“They worked very hard all year to win the championship and I’m very happy for them,” Beatty said.
Rounding out Lockport’s girls varsity tennis roster are senior Kaylynn Wik, juniors Hailey MacDonald, Madeline Smolinski and Liz Stricklin; sophomores Moiona Eubank, Andressa Fortunado, Rachel Haley, Jordan Niles, Kaci Szczygiel and Shelby Zielkiewicz; eighth grader Erin Haley and seventh graders Julia Frank and Abigail McGowan.
Beatty began his coaching career in 1982 when the LHS girls tennis program began. Besides coaching, Beatty is an avid Civil War re-enactor and in addition to his special appearances at the most historic Civil War battlefields in the country including Gettysburg, Bull Run and Antietam, has worked in classic Civil War movies including “Gods and Generals,” starring Tony Award-nominated American actor and playwright Stephen Lang.